Sunday, February 28, 2010

Another Lazy Sunday

We seem to be having more and more of these lazy Sunday's. Other than doing some laundry and dishes, it looks like a great deal of nothing whatsoever is going to be accomplished today. Sounds like a plan. I did get around to some reorganizing of this place; nothing drastic, just some clean-up in the links and the ever-growing list of books we've read. I'm pretty sure no one cares what we read over a year ago, so those got moved to an Evernote document in case we need to refer to it. (I'm also pretty sure that no one cares what we read period, but that's another topic.) Several rarely-updated links were moved off the blog to bookmarks where they will be checked less frequently. A few that had gone inactive are now back. What can I say; I'm fickle. And easily bored.

It has now been several weeks since I logged into either Facebook or Twitter. The universe hasn't imploded or anything. The few people who care enough to contact us still do and the rest, well, whatever. But what hasn't changed is Facebook constantly hammering our blog. I appreciate the bump in unique visitors, but I'm not sure what the hell is going on. I'm not talking about real people follow a link on my now-defunct Facebook wall, but rather IP addresses owned by Facebook pinging off our blog. Has someone working for Facebook taken a sudden interest in the day-to-day lives of a couple drifters? Is it some bot attempting to discern my evil plot to overthrow Facebook with my incessant posting of links to this blog? What is this about? The funniest part is that when I was posting links on a daily basis, this rarely happened. Now that I haven't even logged onto Facebook in weeks, it's happening two or three times a day. Whatever.

The big news is yet-another earthquake. This one in Chile and one of the strongest ever recorded. The death-toll is several orders of magnitude less than Haiti because the quake was much deeper, and Chile has a functioning government that enforces at least minimal building codes. But it will still be bad. Worse, it happened just as donor fatigue is ramping up due to Haiti.

Well, I think I'm going to go watch a movie or something.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

More White Stuff

This blog seems to have become the Southwestern New Hampshire Weather Blog. As such, I'm "happy" to report that the non-stop rain turned to ice, then snow, then knocked out our power for several hours this morning. I guess I shouldn't complain too much; one of my clients not only lost power for a couple days, but also had all the brand-new computer equipment they had purchased for their business fried by the power surge that preceded the black-out. In any case, the cloud cover is breaking up, the sun is coming out, and by Tuesday, it's supposed to be sunny and near 40. We may yet survive our "reminder winter" (as in a reminder of why we don't like winter).

Anyway, I continue to be baffled by the clientele my job attracts, although less so than the initial batch of drug-addled losers from the first couple weeks. Ah well; I'll never see them again. And I may have something to do after April 15th; a guy from a business a couple doors down the street came in and we got to talking about what-not and he told me to give him a call. Sweet. I'd be doing something completely different from any job I've ever had, so that's certainly a plus. Don't want to get pigeon-holed or anything.

I love to read the British take on American politics:
Warning: watching American politicians argue about healthcare can be seriously damaging to your health. Symptoms may include migraines, extreme fatigue and sudden violent urges. In the event of exposure to competing statistics — regarding "donut holes", "HMO deductibles", "reconciliation devices" or suchlike — seek immediate medical help.

I didn't bother watching any of the summit. Some claim that Obama got "slapped around the room," that Obama casually dismissed Republicans with his "Guess what? I won." attitude, that Pelosi and Reed looked like idiots (or geniuses). Blah blah blah. I'm having a hard time caring anymore. Obama and his Chicago thugs seems bent on destroying whatever is left of the Long Boom. Not that Republicans did much better; Fannie/Freddy and AIG will be costing taxpayers for a long time to come, and private debt will be a primary hamper on the economy for at least a generation. What I don't see are any proposals likely to have anything other than a continuing negative impact on us. (shrug) Thus it has always been.

Well, time to catch up on last week's Daily Show episodes while Debbie is out of the house.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Wetter and Wetter

It is still raining. There is water everywhere. Everyone from the county to homeowners are out trying to free up storm drains so the water has someplace to go other than the living room or a giant puddle on the highway. There is no end in site. If this had been snow, we'd be up around 4 feet by now. The roads are still lined with utility trucks patching together power lines. Our electric has stayed on (looks around desperately for some wood to knock on), but most of the people I work with have lost power at some point in the last couple days. What an interesting place. I think I'll take my chances with hurricanes.

I wonder at times what planet newspaper reporters come from. There is an article that breathlessly announces that (gasp!) Hispanic immigrants are heavily religiously conservative! Wow! Ya think that may have something to do with how those same Hispanic immigrants are heavily Catholic? Looks like the Dallas Morning News had some white space that needed filling.

The Airport Security Kabuki Theater continues. Flashcards. Ye flippin' gods.

Another excellent essay over at The Archdruid Report explaining why fossil fuels will be difficult to impossible to replace. Namely, fossil fuels are made by huge energy inputs resulting in a very energy-dense fuel source. Attempting to replicate that with solar or wind or [fill in the blank] is a challenge. I largely agree with his point, but would quibble with his comments on nuclear. The cost of nuclear, at least here in the United States, is inflated by legal and regulatory obstacles that don't accomplish much other than destroying nuclear as an option. I still contend that had the US started a crash program (or a series of X-Prizes) on September 12, 2001 to build a number of different test reactors (light water, fast breeders, thorium, pebble bed, etc.), standardized on a design, made it immune to NIMBY law suites, onerous permitting processes, etc., we'd now have an abundance of electricity. Running in parallel with this, other crash programs (or X-Prizes) for battery tech and charging infrastructure would make electric transportation affordable and practical. At the very least, this would have given all those Masters of the Universe something to do other than create exotic financial derivatives based on toxic mortgages, sell them as AAA-safe-as-US-T-bills, and blow up the world economy.

Related to that, housing sales continue to dig an even-deeper hole. I love this:
The big drop was a surprise to economists who were expecting a 5 percent increase over December's pace.

By all the gods, do economists live in caves in Afghanistan?

A great article on lost trust. It is focused on the loss of trust in climate scientists, and, by extension, science in general. But it can be applied to a great many things. Like economists and bankers.

And the rain continues. I may need webbed feet to pick Debbie up from work.

Liquid Snow

We wondered how is was supposed to continue to snow when the low temperature last night was 39 degrees. The answer is, it didn't. Snow that is. But it has been raining continuously for the last 16 hours which is saturating the snow we got yesterday and snapping off tree limbs and power/phone/cable lines like crazy. The roads and parking lots are all flooded because the storm drains are buried under several feet of very compacted snow that was plowed off yesterday.

All this is obviously having some impact on business as I'm blogging-while-working. Well, "working" is probably not the most accurate description.

Finally got some photos up on Flickr. We found a cool little river and a wooden bridge over it while driving all over the place last Sunday. There is also a couple pictures of Debbie showing off her top she bought with her birthday money.

That's pretty much it. Back to being really bored. I need to start bringing a book.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Yep. Snow.

Weather forecasters love to exaggerate potential snowfalls, so we were understandably skeptical about getting a foot of snow. Well, we're getting is good and hard right now. The morning commute should be an interesting one, although we could hear the snowplows out all night. It's actually above freezing right now which will make it nice and sloppery (new word!). Tomorrow will be even more fun when the snow turns to sleet then rain. Woohoo!

Definitely Florida.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Snow ?

Last time we had a winter storm watch (or warning?) we got about 6-8 inches and then nice sunny weather came and it was gone by the end of the week.

Now, they are forecasting 8-12 inches by Wed - this time a wintery storm mix. Snow at times, then turning to sleet and rain. That should make it really fun to drive. I'm glad we have one vehicle and Ric is doing the driving. (Thanks honey!)

We will see what really happens this week with the weather and such. I"m sure the people that got out this weekend or Monday for their winter school break vacation were really glad. Those that are leaving in the next couple days are going to be really watching the weather. (My boss is one of those people - she leaves Thurs afternoon for Vegas and the races)

Half-way Through

Coming up on the half-way mark through tax season. I'm hoping the worst is behind me because I won't make it to the end if I have to deal with as much crap as I'm had to over the last couple weeks. I know I sound like a broken record, but people are even more ridiculous than even a cynic like me could have imagined. It gets positively surreal at times.

My previous post was a test of the Windows Live Writer. Whenever in the past I've used a Microsoft product for anything remotely HTML-ish, the results have sucked dead bunnies. The generated HTML is a disaster and never seems to render correctly on anything other than Windows/IE. Live Writer is very different, at least when writing to Blogger. It was just straight text. But I really don't see the point in using it. It isn't any easier or faster than the standard Blogger web-ware, and I couldn't figure out a way to zoom the text so I can read what I'm typing that didn't screw up the actual post. Maybe I missed something. In any case, I saw no compelling reason to change how I've been doing this blog for the last six years. Maybe I'm just to distracted.

Another week has gone by, so of course another batch of banks have bitten the dust. The good news is that both the rate of failures and the size of the banks involved are much lower than last year. Maybe 2010 will be a floor? That would be nice.

While most of the focus has been on the federal deficits, the states are in even worse shape. California is contemplating taking on the Supreme Court in order to generate revenue. This was inevitable recession or not. For years, sales tax revenues have been eroded by mail-order and internet purchases. When you buy something from a catalog or the internet and the company does not have a physical presence in your state, the company isn't responsible for collecting the sales tax. The buyer is supposed to pay it when they file their taxes. I've done a lot of tax returns over the last 20 years and have never had someone tell me to add in the tax on stuff they bought online. In the past, the states griped about it from time to time, but it really wasn't enough money to bother with. The internet combined with the desperate condition most states are in looks to bring the whole mess to a head. I'm sure the solution will benefit no one but the lawyers and politicians. As always.

Speaking of morally defective politicians, the Chairman of the IPCC is once-again proving that a) the IPCC is a political body, not a scientific one, b) that all politicians are moral defectives, and c) that the morally defective politicians at the center of global warming alarmism don't give a tinker's dam about the planet.

I know that reading really long articles on the internet is a bit of a pain, but How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America is worth the effort. It is likely that most of what is discussed there isn't news to anyone that has been paying even the slightest attention, but it is useful to have it all laid out in one place. Some gems:
The broadest measure of unemployment and underemployment (which includes people who want to work but have stopped actively searching for a job, along with those who want full-time jobs but can find only part-time work) reached 17.4 percent in October, which appears to be the highest figure since the 1930s. And for large swaths of society—young adults, men, minorities—that figure was much higher (among teenagers, for instance, even the narrowest measure of unemployment stood at roughly 27 percent). One recent survey showed that 44 percent of families had experienced a job loss, a reduction in hours, or a pay cut in the past year....

...more than 140 banks failed in 2009. As a result, banks have kept lending standards tight, frustrating the efforts of small businesses—which have accounted for almost half of all job losses—to invest or rehire....

As of November, one in seven mortgages was delinquent, up from one in 10 a year earlier. As many as one in four houses may now be underwater, and the ratio of household debt to GDP, about 65 percent in the mid-1990s, is roughly 100 percent today....

The economy now sits in a hole more than 10 million jobs deep—that’s the number required to get back to 5 percent unemployment, the rate we had before the recession started, and one that’s been more or less typical for a generation. And because the population is growing and new people are continually coming onto the job market, we need to produce roughly 1.5 million new jobs a year—about 125,000 a month—just to keep from sinking deeper....

Strong evidence suggests that people who don’t find solid roots in the job market within a year or two have a particularly hard time righting themselves. In part, that’s because many of them become different—and damaged—people. Krysia Mossakowski, a sociologist at the University of Miami, has found that in young adults, long bouts of unemployment provoke long-lasting changes in behavior and mental health. “Some people say, ‘Oh, well, they’re young, they’re in and out of the workforce, so unemployment shouldn’t matter much psychologically,’” Mossakowski told me. “But that isn’t true"....

Many of today’s young adults seem temperamentally unprepared for the circumstances in which they now find themselves. Jean Twenge, an associate professor of psychology at San Diego State University, has carefully compared the attitudes of today’s young adults to those of previous generations when they were the same age. Using national survey data, she’s found that to an unprecedented degree, people who graduated from high school in the 2000s dislike the idea of work for work’s sake, and expect jobs and career to be tailored to their interests and lifestyle. Yet they also have much higher material expectations than previous generations, and believe financial success is extremely important. “There’s this idea that, ‘Yeah, I don’t want to work, but I’m still going to get all the stuff I want,’” Twenge told me. “It’s a generation in which every kid has been told, ‘You can be anything you want. You’re special’”....

That just scratches the surface. Much good stuff.

At some point in the last couple months, I think we have decided we will be leaving New England sometime in the fall. Like most of our major life-decisions, I don't recall setting down and having some sort of rational discussion and coming to a conclusion about staying or going. It's more like in our casual conversations we have gone from "if we leave" to "when we leave." It was inevitable, I suppose, given the insane cost of living around here combined with being back in winter weather. We'll probably start the initial planning sometime over the summer, then get out of here just before winter sets in and head down to Florida. With what it costs for us to live here, we wouldn't be burning through any more of our savings by living in Florida without either of us working that we are here with both of us working. (That may be a slight exaggeration; but only a slight one.)

And it's time to get ready for another day at Psychos R Us.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Bit of a Test

Got some software that is supposed to allow me to type up stuff off-line then publish to the blog. I have no idea if this is going to be easier, harder, or no different. Maybe it will completely jack up the blog or the entry will look like crap.

Or maybe it will magically work just like it’s supposed to.

Today we did a lot of driving; over 170 miles of twisting two-lane roads and small towns. We did manage to get a few pictures and I’ll get those on Flickr as soon as I can get a Round Tuit.

I see one problem already; the text is just small enough to cause eye strain. I don’t know if I can change the display size for me without changing the published size. So one minus and and no real plusses yet.

And it’s really late and it’s been a bit of a day and tomorrow comes early, so it was probably a dumb idea to start this post and I’m just going to hit the Publish button and see what happens.

Annual Maintenance

I've been attempting to do my annual offsite backup for the last 24 hours. Every year it becomes a bigger pain in the posterior; every year I swear I'm going to do something different; every year finds me spending a couple days feeding a stack of DVD's into whatever PC I'm using at the time, trying to save the 60GB of data I consider critical into 4.38GB chunks (there is another terabyte of videos that can be recreated at some cost of my time; it would be nice to be able to back those up as well). Part of the problem is that I'm a bit of a digital pack rat. I have every file I have ever created regardless of its usefulness; accounting files from a program I used in 1984 through all the years I used Quicken up to the program I now use (AceMoney). I have every bit of MicroFocus COBOL code I wrote in my VW days (ya know, just in case MS-DOS makes a sudden reappearance). All the code and text from the original before I got lazy and transmogrified it into a blog. With 1.5TB of attached storage, what's the problem? Well, the "problem" is that backing up that much data onto stable media is a challenge. The easy way would be to go snag an appropriately-sized hard drive, stuff it into the MX1 enclosure I have sitting in the drawer in front of me, copy everything over to it, rebox it, label it and store it someplace secure. Fast and easy, but hard drives degrade a lot faster than DVD's and are far more sensitive to environmental damage. For large amounts of data, there just aren't that many good options. I would think that with the popularity of digital cameras and MP3's (54GB of the 60GB I'm trying to back up) someone would have come up with a sensible backup strategy for home PC's. There are services that allow you to backup data to The Cloud, but they are expensive (Amazon's S3), limited (gee, it's cool that you let me store a whole gigabyte, sire. Now what about the other 59?), or brain dead in some way like Mozey that doesn't allow you to backup files from anything but your PC's internal hard drive.

And all that assumes that you should trust The Cloud with data you care about, which is a huge assumption in my book given the recent spate of world-wide hacking attempts by the Chinese government and the Russian mafia. While I'm sure that what little we have would be uninteresting to these people, there is no way I'm going to put my entire life history at their disposal just in case they decide to swipe the $5.03 in our checking account.

Meanwhile, our government continues to pour resources into the on-going Kabuki Theater called airport security by constantly harassing people least likely to be a terrorist in the name of political correctness, and performing Keystone Kops routines resulting in shut-downs at the nation's busiest airports. And never forget that you pay out 1/4 of your income so these bumbling idiots can make more money than you do.

More signs that economic prosperity is not just around the corner: the number of jobless and underemployed stubbornly refuses to listen to the talking heads elsewhere on CNBC and their "green shoots everywhere" talk. And even the mighty Walmart has struck out (with apologies to Ernest Thayer).

Now here is an interesting case (as in the Chinese Curse): a Philadelphia school gives away laptops to their students, then uses the built-in video camera to spy on them. As usual, the school officials think that everyone is as retarded as they are:
The Lower Merion School District, in response to a suit filed by a student, has acknowledged that webcams were remotely activated 42 times in the past 14 months, but only to find missing, lost or stolen laptops....

Which is why a spy photo from the web cam was used to confront a student regarding his behavior in his own bedroom:
The suit, which seeks class-action status, alleges that Harriton vice principal Lindy Matsko on Nov. 11 cited a laptop photo in telling Blake that the school thought he was engaging in improper behavior. He and his family have told reporters that an official mistook a piece of candy for a pill and thought he was selling drugs.

Because any person with normal brain function would assume that a kid eating an Altoid was a drug dealer and that taking a photo remotely with a web cam of a kid in his bedroom is somehow not spying on him. Because, ya know, it might have been drugs and anyway it's for the children, and I meant well, and fuzzy bunnies! I call fuzzy bunnies!

Remind me again why we let these morons anywhere near our children? Has anyone bothered to look through this perv's other photos of children engaged in improper behavior that were obtained while not spying on them?

Enough of that; back to burning DVD's. I'd be curious to know what other people do for backups. Or do you simply hope and pray?

[Footnote: for years I've been referring to the Chinese Curse without realizing that a) it is very unlikely that they are in any way Chinese and b) that there are actually three of them:

May you live in interesting times
May you come to the attention of those in authority
May you find what you are looking for

Which, as curses go, are some pretty scary ones.]

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Spreading Some Cheer

After the crap-tastic day of bitchy New England assholes, two closely-related articles from last night's reading just seem to fit right in. But before getting to those, I've had an epiphany of a sorts; while I enjoy doing taxes for a living and wouldn't mind in the least getting back into it full-time, I will have to be literally starving before I ever work for a tax prep place that offers the so-called bank products (ie. Refund Anticipation Loans). Those products attract too many people living through self-inflicted tragedy, many looking everywhere but in a mirror for the cause of their problems. I'm not a mental health worker or substance abuse counselor or a source of gas money (yes, actual example; gods help us) when money refuses to rain from heaven just because you demand it. From the other side, we're talking about a multi-billion dollar industry based on exploiting people who are either in retched circumstances, are too stupid to know they are being fleeced, or, more typically, both. In other words, I find a large part of what I do for a living to be morally reprehensible. I'll stick it out until April 15th (unless Boss Man reads my blog; I can always hope), but never again.

On to those cheery bits from the intertubes.

The first is by another one of those guys that makes me look like a flamboyant optimist:
We will get you the solutions you need to invest successfully in the short-term. But first, you're going to sit through 10 more reality checks exposing Wall Street's dark conspiracy to control the American mind, your money and world markets. This is what I see, a steady stream of warnings that also reveals why most investors focus mainly on short-term "solutions," why you tune out long-term "solutions," and why the Debt-Bomb Explosion moves inexorably closer.

That's in the second paragraph. It doesn't get any cheerier. After giving ten reasons to believe we are well and truly screwed, he continues with ten investment strategies, but not before giving this preamble:
If you insist on short-term trading -- something guys like Bogle, Buffett, Ellis and others call a "loser's game" because of huge fees and commissions Wall Street skims off the top of our returns -- these 10 rules add a measure of caution counterbalancing the endless, reckless hype coming from Wall Street's Fat-Cat Bankers pushing a 2010 recovery....

Which is followed by ten stock tips you will never get from CNBC's Mad Money. He wraps it up with a conclusion only a true pessimist could love:
OK, there you have the 10 short-term "solutions" you want. Will they help? Unlikely in the long run. Why? Because in the final analysis, all investing strategies, short or long, have nothing to do with market fundamentals, nor trading systems, nor the economy. Nothing.

Investing in the 21st century is totally dependent on America's dysfunctional political system, which is adrift in a fog bank of treacherous icebergs. America has lost its moral compass. We're guided by narrow-minded politicians manipulated by Wall Street's greedy casino bosses addicted to short-term "solutions."

Wall Street's dark conspiracy is destroying capitalism, taking down democracy with it ... nobody sees past the end of their noses ... the blind are leading the blind ... while everybody pretends that short-term strategies are the "solution" to the long-term "Debt-Bomb" that just keeps tick, tick, ticking ... silently counting down till the Doomsday Clock hits "Zero Hour" ... then explodes.

Closely related, although not quite as dark, there is an important reminder from John Greer; namely that the normal condition of humanity through time has been more like Haiti, rather than the US:
There’s nothing all that remarkable about the future ahead of us; it’s simply that the unparalleled abundance that our civilization bought by burning through half a billion years of stored sunlight in three short centuries has left most people in the industrial world clueless about the basic realities of human life in more ordinary times....

Even after two billion years of evolutionary improvements, photosynthesis only converts about one percent of the solar energy falling on leaves into chemical energy that can be used for other purposes, and that only when other requirements – water, soil nutrients, and so on – are also on hand. Other than a little extra from wind and running water, that trickle of energy from photosynthesis is what a nonindustrial society has to work with; that’s what fuels the sum total of human and animal muscle that works the fields, digs the mines, wields the tools of every craft, and does everything else that produces wealth. This, in turn, is why most people in nonindustrial societies have so little; the available energy supply, and the other resources that can be extracted and used with that energy, are too limited to provide any more.

Greer outlines a possible solution based on Schumacher, so the essay ends on a somewhat happy note; the problem is that the solution looks more like the 19th century rather than 21st century. I have family memory of homesteading in the 19th century and it ain't Little House on the Prairie. The Dark Horse was a very real presence.

I think I've spread enough joy for one day.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Slow Season

During our office's very-non-busy busy season, I kept thinking that things couldn't possibly get any slower. I was wrong. In two days, I've done exactly one tax return. Thank the gods for the internet, which keeps me endlessly entertained. I can't imagine any way this can end well for the owner, but in the meantime, I get to set at work and get paid to do what I would be doing while setting at home unemployed. Good for me until the paychecks start bouncing. From what I can tell, the other office seems to be picking up some of the slack, but I doubt it will be enough.

In other tax related news, we finally have the last bit of paper so we can file our taxes. I've been waiting for a W-2 from my last job in Arizona. They went out of business shortly after I quit and I had no reliable way to contact them. I had attempted to before leaving Prescott, but I had no idea if I had gotten through. We renewed the forwarding order from Prescott just in case and waited the IRS-prescribed time. Of course, because I sat on the phone for an hour yesterday waiting for the next available IRS agent in order to get the ball rolling from that end, the W-2 was sitting in our mail box when we got home. So now we are all happy-happy joy-joy and get to finally file our 2009 taxes, officially putting the worst year of our lives behind us.

In weather-related news, our luck ran out yesterday. The last two big storms that hit the east coast slid south of us thanks to a mass of cold air sitting on top of New England. This last one hit us dead on. We still aren't getting what I would consider a lot of snow (6-8 inches), but you wouldn't know that by the panic-y voices on the radio announcing a seemingly-endless list of school and other government-related closures. Funny how six inches of snow will close every school, senior center, and tax-funded agency, yet all the private business manage to be open. Hmmmmm....

Nothing has really caught my eye the last couple days, so no long, tedious bloviations with random links embedded in them today.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Weekend is Over

Two whole days off, and now back to the grind. At least we got out of the apartment a couple times and managed to get a few things done. Part of the reason is all the time I freed up by staying off Facebook. I find I don't miss it at all, while enjoying all the extra time in every day. Sure, I use most of that time to watch all the crazy stuff people put on YouTube, read murder mystery novels and watch movies, rather than pursuing a PhD in physics or writing the Great American Novel. But anything is better than endless hours on FaceCrack.

And the waffles were sublime, if I do say so myself.

The focus over the weekend was on the video of luger Nodar Kumaritashvili smashing into a steel pole. He was young and inexperienced, so of course it was his own fault, not the people who put a series of steel columns on the exit of a dangerous curve at the bottom of the track where the lugers are running at maximum speed. Maybe I'm over-reacting, but I guess I missed the memo that says it's OK to design a track where inexperienced racers are killed rather than simply having a bad run. Or that it's OK for the home team to act like douche-nozzles.

Anyway, other than the "death video" of Kumaritashvili's run, I haven't seen any of the Winter Olympics. Am I missing anything? Should I go trolling the web for coverage, or am I safe watching Ace Ventura: Pet Detective tonight?

Scott Adams talks about every PC's owner bete noir:
My computer's memory fills up a few times a day, and then the system crashes. It doesn't seem to matter what applications I use. And closing applications doesn't free up memory. This has been true on every computer I have owned, both Macs and PCs. Rebooting periodically is the only temporary fix. To which I say, "SERIOUSLY?? WTF???? IS THIS REALLY AN UNSOLVEABLE PROBLEM, LIKE FRICKIN' GRAVITY???"

No, it's not unsolvable, but it is a career-ender to suggest that time be taken out of the development cycle to chase down the problem. Every software company from Microsoft to Jimmy working in his mommy's basement faces the same dilemma: if you stop adding features and try to fix anything but the most gross and obvious errors, you will be left in the dust. The history of computing is piled high with the corpses of companies that emphasized stability, compactness and efficiency over getting a new release out every few months (Brown Bag Software was one of my favorites; loved their outline editor). Besides, a program that is a memory or CPU hog today will barely register on the next iteration of hardware. The two computers we own are illustrative: the older, dual core, 1 gig RAM machine has become barely usable because memory usage is over 70% just sitting at the desktop after a fresh reboot. But the newer one has 4 gig RAM and 4 cores and has no difficulty. Our next machine will likely have 8 gig RAM and a minimum of 4 cores, possibly more. What motivation is there for a software company to worry about a memory leak that requires a reboot once a week? Sure, in rare cases like Scott's, a particular combination of software makes the problem rise from mild irritant to work-killing problem, but it isn't common enough to warrant anyone's attention. Easier just to point fingers vaguely in someone else's direction, keep plowing new features into the product and pray to the IT gods that Intel will once-again bail your ass out.

In my lifetime, corporal punishment has gone from normal and expected to child abuse. But I wonder how the alternative will be viewed a century from now?
A Port St. Lucie first-grade student was handcuffed and committed to a mental health facility because of her classroom behavior, and her parents are furious that the school took such extreme measures.

Not really sure what to say to that other than, "Wow. Damn good thing they didn't do anything abusive like paddle her ass for acting out."

And Climategate continues to unravel. The unfortunate thing is that there will be an over-shoot. We really do need to figure out how the climate works and if we are mucking it up. Just because some politicians decided to grab on to global warming as a path to wealth and power doesn't mean that we should keep on as we are. Burning dead dinosaurs in our cars is a bad idea if for no other reason than we have better uses for the stuff.

Well, the alarm just went off, so I need to go get ready for another exciting day of dealing with the logically-challenged.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!

What special thing did your honey do for you today ... or buy for you?

Mine is making me waffles for breakfast. I love waffles!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Some People...

This week has been problem week; missing refunds, software glitches, hardware glitches, employee glitches, flat-out errors. But most of all, whine-and-stomp-my-feet-like-I'm-six clients, including one that demanded a refund of her free return.


The good news is that the crunch supposedly ended today and the rest of the tax season is supposed to be dominated by more-evolved clients. I wouldn't know as on our busiest day so far, we did about half the returns we were projected to do. Most days are like today; six hours of watching videos on the internet, an hour to do two tax returns, and another hour to try to a) figure out why I was being yelled at (harder to figure than one would realize), and b) what in fracking hell I was supposed to do about it. But it is TGIF, we both have a two-day weekend for the first time in over a month, it was sunny and in the high 30's today, what little snow we got is completely gone, and it is supposed to be more of the same all weekend.

Whoa. Fell asleep on the couch and now it is 4:30am Saturday. Anyway, what was I saying? Oh. Right.

Nice weather this weekend, blah, blah. We are planning a road trip that will cover around 100 miles. It has an aspect of work to it, in that I'll be doing a bit of my side job, but we will also get to see a part of New Hampshire we haven't been to yet. We plan to take the camera with us and maybe do a little wandering about in a few little New England towns.

Not much has caught my eye the last few days, likely because of work sucking up so much of my mental energy lately with all the problems. But the National Review has an uncharacteristic good bit on the current climate brouhaha:
Exaggeration and alarmism have been a chronic weakness of environmentalism since it became an organized movement in the 1960s. Every ecological problem was instantly transformed into a potential world-ending crisis, from the population bomb to the imminent resource depletion of the “limits to growth” fad of the 1970s to acid rain to ozone depletion, always with an overlay of moral condemnation of anyone who dissented from environmental correctness. With global warming, the environmental movement thought it had hit the jackpot — a crisis sufficiently long-range that it could not be falsified and broad enough to justify massive political controls on resource use at a global level.

Emphasis is entirely mine. There are people in the environmental movement that actually care about the environment and make substantive sacrifices in their daily lives in an attempt to live up to the ideals they preach. Al Gore isn't one of them. None of the private-plane-and-limo crowd in Copenhagen are in their number either. The vast majority of the people in the environmental movement don't give a damn about anything beyond money and power. Never forget that.

The internet is often described as a game-changer; disruptive technology to use the lingo. The internet got its start as a better mousetrap; an incremental improvement over previous ways of connecting multiple computers together. (Anyone remember token ring networks and the perpetual lost tokens?) What it became was something no one expected. Well, some people expected it; science fiction writers mostly. But it was never taken seriously outside a fringe minority anymore than the average person today really expects people to fly around in giant cities in space and have holosex, er, holodecks for entertainment. This is the great part about disruptive technology; those most affected never see it coming:

Imagine this sweet deal: Instead of paying big bucks for dozens of channels you don’t watch, you get to pick only the content you want: ESPN. Dexter. Every film Jessica Alba was ever in.

OK, now forget it. Ain’t gonna happen.

Um, excuse me? It's already happened. Not that digital, on-demand delivery is currently making a huge dent in traditional cable service, just as e-books still only account for a few percentage points of all book sales. But in both cases, that is up a long way from the zero of two or three years ago and I expect the slope on that line to be very steep. So why the blindness?
From a technical standpoint, à la carte programming is a real possibility.

From a business standpoint, not so much. Many cable companies buy content in packages (MTV, for example, might come with VH1, BET, and Spike), so if you could pick only what you wanted, providers would be stuck paying for a lot of unused programming. They would likely have to raise fees to maintain their revenue. In 2006, the FCC explored à la carte programming and found that customers would be able to get only 20 channels before they saw hikes in their bills. And niche networks would likely fall by the wayside. (We’d miss you, Syfy.)

The industry isn’t going to budge any time soon, says Will Richmond, president of consulting firm Broadband Directions. “What we’re seeing instead are third parties chipping away at its model.” TiVo. Roku. Vudu. Xbox 360.

Hulu, Netflix, Bittorrent. Darknets. Vimeo. YouTube. Thousands of others. It says something when even those who profess knowledge of what is hacking away at the foundations of their business model miss the most significant players. I'm willing to bet that there is several orders of magnitude more program distribution via Bittorrent than Xbox 360. Note the argument: It can't possibly happen even though it is technologically feasible because the current business model can't support it. A past guest on CarPool that has worked in the music industry since the late fifties explained it in terms of the stages of grief: denial (what we see demonstrated here), anger and an attempt to destroy the source of the disruption (DRM, DMCA, MPAA and RIAA instigation of legalized blackmail, wholesale purchase of members of Congress), and finally, acceptance that the current way of doing business must be scrapped in favor of something radically different.

Well, speaking of being disruptive, I need to go watch an entire week's worth of The Daily Show on Hulu.

Whole Weekend Together

Wow --- it worked out that both Ric and I have the same Saturday off from work. We have the whole weekend to play with. Tomorrow we are heading out to do a couple (4) mystery shops and see what kind of things we can find to take some pictures of. The weather is suppose to be in the mid to high 30's and sunny.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Multiculturalism II

At around 35 minutes into this, enjoy listening to Western feminists get torn to shreds.

The Newest Third World Nation?

In the course of writing last week’s Archdruid Report post, I belatedly realized that there’s a very simple way to talk about the scope of the brutal economic contraction now sweeping through American society – a way, furthermore, that might just be able to sidestep both the obsessive belief in progress and the equally obsessive fascination with apocalyptic fantasy that, between them, make up much of what passes for thinking about the future these days. It’s to point out that, over the next decade or so, the United States is going to finish the process of becoming a Third World country.

Read the rest


Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow...

...somewhere else. We were grazed by yesterday's snowstorm and ended up with enough of a dusting to cover up the ugly snowplow piles and the bare ground, but not much more than that. The problem is my drive to work which involves going up-and-over a low pass which likes to fill up with snow. It was getting quite a bit of snow when I came home last night, but the plows and sand trucks were already on it, so I should be OK as long as everyone else acts normal while driving. I know, I know. At least we're not in New York or DC. There is so much snow in Washington that a global warming Senate meeting was canceled. And at least one Senator has a sense of humor. Somehow I don't think Al Gore is laughing.

Mark Twain is supposed to have said something along the lines of, "Common sense ain't so common." But I think even a hardened cynic would do a double take upon learning that it is now New York school policy to take young children out of their classroom and down to the police station in handcuffs for drawing on their desk. Whatever happened to scrubbing all the desk in the room after school? Of course everyone is just following procedure because that's what people with below average intelligence do.

Speaking of below average intelligence, one of Obama's cronies wants to implement VW's Super Bowl ad's Green Police. Ye flippin' gods.

And while we're on the subject, a couple airport security stories. The TSA is once again accused of acting like goons and harassing the most unlikely-to-be-a-terrorist person in the security line. In this he-said-she-said story, the video tapes that would prove one side's case were destroyed because of a lack of disk space. First, why do I think that if the video tapes supported the TSA's side of the story, we'd be seeing them played endlessly on every news channel? Second, the TSA, with a budget in the hundreds of billions, can't afford the $150 for a couple terabytes of disk space? The problem with low IQ people in positions of power is that they think the rest of us are as stupid as they are.

And remember how we were told that the new virtual strip search scanners would have all the naughty bits covered up? That the image would only be viewable by one person? That that person would be located away from the public? That the images would be immediately destroyed? Well, surprise!!!!! They lied. Just like anyone with above-average intelligence has known all along.

And yet-another description of what's available on cable TV that gives me yet-another reason to never pay for it. The author brings up a great point about "reality" TV:
In so many cases—Hoarders, Intervention, Toddlers and Tiaras, The Real Housewives, and so on—so-called reality TV is merely a glitzed-up showcase through which we can watch people suffer through and struggle with genuine mental shortcomings. Is that entertainment? What if the diseases were more “conventional” and visible, like cancer or ALS? Wouldn’t we be collectively appalled if someone turned that kind of illness into a reality TV show? Naturally. So is our willingness to watch and be entertained mental illness a product of our ignorance of the subject? Or is it our need to feel smarter and more “whole” than our peers?

Somehow I can't see even a TV exec getting on board with a "reality" show where we all get to watch Stephen Hawking having his diaper changed. And don't give me the ol' "I don't watch that crap; I only watch intelligent stuff like ESPN" excuse. If you subscribe to cable, you are supporting every last one of these shows. Just say no.

A news story for those who think nuclear power plants are the only kind that can blow up and kill people.

The news is full of below-average-intelligence politicians acting stupid. Here's one more: South Carolina's best and brightest just passed a law so poorly worded that the entire population of the United States is now required to register with the Secretary of State for engaging in "subversive activities," or face a $25,000 fine and/or ten years in prison. The lunatics really are running the asylum.

Haiti seems to be falling off the news radar. After all, it's been a whole month and it's all cleaned up and everything is fixed, right? Anyway, the official death toll is now 230,000; equal to the 2004 tsunami. And like the tsunami, that is almost certainly a gross under-count. For perspective, if the US lost an equivalent percentage of its population, the death toll would be over 7 million people. The question now is what comes next? Haiti was a disaster long before the earthquake hit. I'm certain that the US will still be down there a decade from now "rebuilding" what was never there in the first place. As a natural-born pessimist, I expect that we will spend billions of dollars and Haiti will still be the train wreck that it has been for most of my life.

The Next Big Thing in the world of computing is cloud computing. Gone will be the days when your data and programs were trapped on a single computer. Everything will be accessible from anywhere via the internet. All your data will be safe and secure with no effort or expense on your part. Great idea until you want to switch which program you use. If I grow weary of my current photo library manager, I can easily grab and install an alternative. If I want to switch from Yahoo's Flickr to Google's Picasa, things get a bit dicier if my photos only exist on Flickr. Things get really interesting if the internet service I'm using goes dark. Anyone who trusts the only copy of their data to the cloud is a fool.

The US leads the world in many ways, not all of them good. But one area where we are really slipping behind is the ratio of household debt to income. We now in fifth place behind Denmark, Ireland, Netherlands and Norway. Europe is in much worse shape than many seem to realize. This thing is a long way from over.

And that is probably enough for one day. I need to get a couple things done, then get ready to scurry off to another fun day of taxes.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


It's not often these days that I run across an established English word that I've never encountered before. I'm not referring to new words or words from other languages that become English words, both of which have always occurred, just not at the breakneck speed they do today (thank you, Internet). But leave it to Jerry Pournelle to title an essay with a word that sent me off to a dictionary site for both meaning and pronunciation.

The point of all this is to point everyone to probably the best description of where book publishing is today, how it got here and the issues surrounding e-books, publishers, distributors, Amazon, et al. It is written by a professional writer who has been writing for decades, who knows the publishing industry at the cellular level, and is personally involved in technology issues and has been from day one (one of his first computers is now on display in the Smithsonian).

If you read further into that essay, you will find a rather disturbing description of a worm infection/ invasion that Dr. Pournelle suffered on one of his systems. It seems to be extremely sophisticated and he has yet to find any software that can even identify it, let alone eliminate it. Be careful out there.

Now I have to think of a way to work "theomachy" into casual conversation.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Mmmmm Good!

Yesterday after work we made a quick run into Hannafords since they had a sale on 12pks of pop and Lay's chips. Once we both had a shopping cart with our 4 12pks and 4 bags of chips, we decided to get some ice cream.

Edy's had a couple Limited Edition flavors that sounded great to us. I got Strawberry Cheesecake and Ric got Girl Scout Thin Mint ice cream. We started with a couple small spoonfuls right after lunch. Then part way thru the evening, we just got the whole container and a spoon and started to eat right out of the carton. (Bowls are for wusses!) Neither of us could finish the whole carton, so we do have more left for today. But, I doubt it will last after today.

A Day Off

Today is the one day of the week that neither of us has to work. Last week, we never left the apartment. This week, we will be venturing out, but not very far from the cave. Right now, both of our jobs leave us pretty used up by the end of the week, so Saturday afternoon and Sunday usually finds us staring blank-eyed at whatever is in the Hulu queue.

Speaking of Hulu, I have to ask what the big deal is about Verizon FiOS? They make this big production about using Facebook on your TV, like that is somehow impossible without their product. We've been doing that for a year and a half. It's not hard and doesn't require any special equipment as long as your TV has an HDMI port. And if your TV doesn't have one of those, I seriously doubt FiOS will make running Facebook a pleasant experience. Is Verizon really that technologically out of touch? Am I missing something? Sure, if you're a true-blue TV junkie, I'm certain FiOS has some great features, but I can't see running Facebook on your TV being one that you build a Hulu ad campaign around.

Speaking of Facebook, I'm putting the whole social networking thing on a shelf for now. Sure, it's great to find people you graduated with from high school, but what I found is that having a conversation with someone requires having something in common, other than going to the same high school 28 years ago and then having lived completely separate lives since. Unless you really enjoy exchanging an endless series of sentences that begin, "Remember that time when...?" And is that really a conversation? Frankly, the internet is filled to the brim with far more interesting things. Besides, Facebook seems to be on a mission to make using their product as big a pain in the ass as possible. I was all ready to ditch the thing after one of their "upgrades" when they started updating me every time someone friended someone or joined something. FB Purity fixed that until Facebook made a pointless look-and-feel upgrade yesterday that broke FB Purity. I'm not weeding through 300 quiz results and what not just to find the two actual status updates. Maybe after tax season is over, maybe if the guy that maintains the FB Purity script has time to update it, maybe if I really have a lot of spare time, maybe. In the meantime, you have my e-mail, and if you don't, there's likely a reason for that.

I've closed the Twitter tab as well. I found that to be even less useful than Facebook, rarely read it and even more rarely posted anything. I find a couple people mildly amusing, but mostly it's nothing but a series of long-running inside jokes that I'm not in on, and anyway are not that funny when I do put out the effort to research it. If I want to feel awkward and left-out, I can go hang at a Super Bowl party. At least then I can score some food and alcohol.

So bottom line: I should have a lot more time to write long blog posts that will be read by very few people now that I won't be posting links on Facebook. Sweet.

The last week has seen my job go from mildly entertaining to be the soul-sucking experience of watching yet-another company circle the drain. The owner is ruthlessly cutting the hours of operation as well as people (without actually telling employees ahead of time; it seems to be my job to make excuses after the fact). The result is more unpaid hours of work for me. It's not gotten to the point where I need to bitch about it, but it's getting close. The owner is one of those people who think the word "salary" is some sort of Potter-esque magic spell that makes minimum wage laws disappear. I've tried to explain it to him, but he seems to be willfully ignorant of the whole thing. Just like he was willfully ignorant of Vermont's higher-than-federal minimum wage until I did the 10 seconds of research and showed it to him. I try to be generous and assume unintended oversight, but is anyone really that clueless?

Anyway, the good part of this job is that I've rediscovered what I really like to do, and that is taxes. Yep. I actually enjoy doing the basic function of my job. There are parts I don't enjoy, and even find morally repugnant; mostly having to do with the so-called "bank products" which exploit dumb, poor people by charging outrageous fees for something they can get for free. But the actual doing taxes part is fun for me. Yea, I know; no need to say it.

Over the last few days, there has been some serious gum-flapping between book publishers and Amazon over it's $10-for-everything e-book pricing. Not having a Kindle, I guess I don't pay much attention to the price of e-books. I'd say $10 is too high of a price for anything I'm likely to read. I wouldn't pay that much for a physical book, not alone an e-book that I can't sell or donate. So I have no real opinion of the whole kerfuffle, but it is a good indication of the earthquake currently shaking the entire publishing industry. Books, magazines, newspapers; all have to either reinvent their entire way of doing business or eventually die. The natural price point of anything digital ("print" media, music, video) is zero. However, music and movies have a huge advantage over print: theaters in the case of movies, and live performances in the case of music. There is no practical way for 99.99% of people to recreate a live performance or fit a cinema-sized screen in their living room. Even if a band never makes another cent off selling copies of their work, they can (and thousands do) make at least a modest living from live performances. And as much as my general anti-social nature cringes at the "theater experience," there are some movies that must be seen on the big screen. That doesn't mean that movies and music are not being seriously disrupted; technology is having a profound effect on both. But the case of digital books seems more serious. Does anyone seriously believe the average author can make a living from giving speeches while giving away their books for free? The interesting times continue.

Well, I need to get some things done before Debbie gets up and around for the day.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Big Catch-all Post

As Debbie said, she was feeling pretty rough this morning, so she blew off work; but when I got home, she was feeling a little better and decided to go in for the training on the new system rather than taking the chance of missing something important. So I'm taking advantage of my time alone for the usual wild and crazy stuff I like to do whenever I'm bachelorin' it.

Like writing long, rambling blog posts.

Why is it every time I hear someone talking about an awards show, I feel a rush of relief that I don't pay $50/month to have that crap pumped into my house in HiDef? Why would anyone?

How long before we have stuff going on in our networks that resembles a mammalian body vs. bacteria, viruses and parasites?
When it comes to cybersecurity, Darpa’s taking inspiration from nature, with “Cyber Immune” — a defense model for the Pentagon’s computing systems that’s able to detect an attack, fight back and even heal itself automatically to prevent subsequent infiltration.


My bad, it was an endodontist, not an orthodontist that I was referred to for my root canal. After 2+ hours yesterday -- I have a new root canal plus a special small green drainage port. Yep .... it was so infected that they had to make an incision in the gum and insert a small green drainage port to help drain off the infection. I have a followup appt next week to have the port removed and finish things up.

The pain pills they gave me did not help completely. I decided to take today off to recuperate. My jaw is so sore and it hurts to open it more than a little bit. It also feels like it is still swollen up. Figured if I took the day off and didn't talk most of the day -- I should be okay to go back to work for Friday and Saturday. I do have to run in tonight for our regularly scheduled training, but that is after office hours and I won't have to talk much -- mostly listening.

J. K. Rowling

I've posted this before, but it is always worth watching again:

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Hammer Drops

This is supposed to be the busiest week of tax season. I have been in the office for four and a half hours and have talked to exactly two people other than coworkers and telemarketers: one guy that needed some tax info so he could file his return himself and one lady that came to pick up her stuff because her and her husband decided to do their taxes themselves. Hours are going to get cut way back next week for everybody other than yours truly (mine will likely increase slightly; yay management). I have my doubts this office will exist next year. Given the revenue we've generated, this place is nothing but dead weight. I doubt we're even covering salary.

This was always a temporary gig; that's just the nature of the beast. Even the owner has another job he does the other 9 months of the year. But now that I have so much free time at work (hence the blogging), I've been thinking about what happens next. Or sooner than next if the owner decides to cut his losses and shut this office down. I really don't have a clue; I see a lot of jobs in the paper and Craigslist, but even in an area with relatively low unemployment, every job has a hundred applicants. And even with us both working, we are barely bringing enough home to cover the rent. The cost of living out here is simply insane.

But Obama says it will all be over by spring and we'll all be back to work.

Ah well; I should get back to being bored.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

January by the Numbers

Visits were down a bit this month from last at 337. Not surprising given that we are now both working and we keep finding cool things to watch on in what little free time we have. A touch over 44% of those visits were referred here from another site, and over half of those were from Facebook. But a substantial 20% came from reciprocal links and track backs on other people's blogs, which is kind of cool.

On the operating system front, XP still dominates everything else at 53.1%. All Microsoft OS's combined account for 79.6% of visits. I remain surprised at the weakness of Win 7 (3.9%) vs. Vista (21.7%). I know the upgrade is costly, but trust me, it is well worth it. Mac and iPhone accounted for 13.3% combined, with Other, Linux and Blackberry picking up the scraps.

The browser wars continue with January clearly going to IE 8 with 41.2%. IE 6 and 7 only added another 6.6% showing that people are wising up and getting onto IE 8. All versions of Firefox pulled in 31.2%, and Mozilla 5, Safari, Chrome and Other covered the rest.

My own little browser war continues as well. I grew weary of Chrome's bugs and even went as far as unpinning it from my task bar (it has since returned). Sure Firefox was a CPU hog, but at least things worked. Then Firefox 3.6 was released and my CPU usage when running just Firefox dropped by a third. Chrome came out with a new release of its own, which I dutifully installed only to find the same bugs that drove me nuts still there. I assume they will get fixed eventually, but for now, I would just as soon avoid the hassle and use Firefox. The problem for Google is that Firefox isn't a stationary target; the Firefox developers are busy incorporating most of what attracts people to Chrome while keeping all the things that made Firefox popular in the first place. Chrome may yet turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to Firefox.

I don't get a lot of traffic from the search sites, but what I do get usually results from search terms that are somewhat interesting. My favorites this month: "canadian supplier of koegel hot dogs" and "arcosanti shit." Which probably says all that needs to be said about this blog.

Well, I woke up way too early this morning and need a nap.


I have a tooth that has been bothering me on and off since I had a bridge put in before we left Michigan the first time. The new dentist here in Keene said it looked a bit strange around the root and referred me to an orthodontist to see about a root canal. My "consult" was scheduled for this Friday, but that tooth started to really kill me this past weekend. Today my lower jaw is a bit swollen and it aches. I called the orthodontist to see if they could schedule an appt before my consult. They had an opening tomorrow afternoon. She said they might not get the whole thing done in one appt, but at least help with the pain and pressure. Plus probably start me on an antibiotic.

So, be thinking of me tomorrow afternoon. Hopefully things go okay and I don't have a major panic attack.